Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, Service Director for the NPWS has written this blog looking at how we have dealt with the challenges of the current pandemic.

The last three months has been a rollercoaster with every day bringing new challenges and an early realisation that normal ways of working weren’t going to cut the mustard when it comes to protecting our people (and therefore the public) during a pandemic. I’ll avoid using some of the new COVID buzzwords in this blog and stick to what I think has worked, what hasn’t worked so well and what this means for the future.

What’s worked?

  • Personalised advice for line managers and individuals. I’m on record as criticising ‘one size fits all’ HR policy and because COVID affects all of us differently, it’s forced us to do what we should have been doing for years; ditch the sheep dipping, support line managers to use well informed discretion and have great HR experts available so we can tailor plans. COVID equals change and people fear change. Whether it’s school closures, caring for shielded family members or continuing to follow a faith every person is facing a unique challenge.
  • PPE supply chain, quality control and guidance. Hats off to the NPCC team, the staff associations and force leads for getting the right kit in the right numbers out to those who need it. It’s been a process of learning that has required total honesty. Policing is an unpredictable, dynamic business and we are used to taking risks, but never before have we been fearful of taking the risk home. I blogged about on this day one and urged people to recognise it and start pushing our efforts to the next level. Testing, accommodation options and deployment policies are all part and parcel of us doing whatever it takes. It never stops.
  • Engagement. I’ll bang this drum at every opportunity. Unless you’re listening, taking criticism on the chin and providing as much clarity as you can, then nobody is going to trust you. As national lead for wellbeing supporting Gold, I’ve found staff associations, networks and unions to be my greatest resource. Of course they push you hard – because they care. What they bring is expertise, unfiltered feedback and an impressive amount of patience! No decision is sound unless you’ve socialised it with credible people and I’ve lost count of the late night calls these folk have put in to help us make good choices. Thank you.

What hasn’t worked so well?

  • Thinking someone else has a plan. I think policing is good at turning up at something chaotic and problem solving it fast. However, I initially saw a few people slow to accept the uncertainty, reluctant to improvise and fail to adapt. When discussing an early PPE issue someone said ‘we don’t make decisions like this, we need to send a paper to Chief’s Council’. I understand the anxiety – it’s normal to stick to the old rules because they provide a comfort blanket of sorts. COVID has thrown some of the bureaucracy out of the window which is no bad thing in my view.
  • Waiting to be invited in. We are generally a polite, well-mannered bunch I think. It’s a strength but sometimes, like any strength overplayed,  it can hold you back. I’m guilty of this on occasion and have found myself feeling very frustrated with various organisations who seem to have given zero thought to what actually happens at a violent domestic at 3am or how it feels to be spat at by someone claiming to have COVID. It’s not that they’re supposed to know (how could they?) but I wanted them to sound like they cared and were prepared to help us out. I’m not talking about our own folk here and it’s a few individuals (not their whole organisation) that have been hard work. It’s taken too long for us to get traction and to find the right people who are prepared to support us. We need to address this for the next time. 

What does this mean for the future?

As a sector, we’re recognised as having made a massive contribution so far and we couldn’t have done this without the effort that’s gone into wellbeing. Some of the challenges are only just starting, and we must recognise the impact COVID is having on our people now and for the foreseeable future. Most people who work in policing have put in place control measures (consciously or subconsciously) that help them cope and thrive. The odd holiday, visiting loved ones, sport, cinema, faith and of course the pub! Many of these have been shelved, and on top of this, some of our people are experiencing increased levels of exposure to traumatic events as well as personal loss. I predict this bubble will emerge in all sorts of different ways and may be hard to spot.

The answer lies in shifting our mindset from thinking about the COVID crisis as having a start and an end, where the great stuff stops and old habits return. COVID has in many senses taught us what we already knew – that there’s a better way to work. Less bureaucracy, more flexibility, more listening, less judging and dare I say it better quality work. Maybe COVID will accelerate some of the changes we’ve been struggling with and we’ll come out of this awful crisis in better shape than we went in.